As enrollment season heats up on the exchanges — and while the websites limp along — brokers have a message for anyone having a hard time making heads and tails of it all: they can help, much more so than navigators can.
The National Association of Professional Insurance Agents is spreading the word to consumers that brokers can help them make sense of the confusing world of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
In a statement this week, the trade association reminded all that brokers and agents are much “more than just navigators,” arguing they can “offer a much higher level of assistance” than the federal navigators hired to help Americans buy insurance on the public exchanges.
Unlike navigators, who cannot offer advice or recommend one policy over another, brokers can offer that advice, the group said.
“In most states navigators are not required to be licensed or to comply with state-mandated continuing education requirements; they are also not required to maintain professional liability insurance coverage. Agents and brokers must be licensed and must comply with all of these requirements, along with all state laws and regulations,” the PIA statement read.
Meanwhile, PPACA's navigators have been struggling to sign consumers up for insurance as website problems have stalled web enrollments. Despite $67 million in funding to help with enrollment, navigators are waiting on website repairs and sifting through pages of paper applications.
There has long been contention between navigators and brokers, with brokers claiming PPACA’s navigator program is one last administrative jab to their profession’s worth. The Obama administration has said that navigators do not have to be licensed agents or brokers and may not be paid by insurance companies. Republicans have slammed the navigator program, arguing that brokers and agents are trained professionals who have the experience and requirements to guide consumers in their health plan options.
Though some brokers have felt defeated by PPACA, and many are leaving — or considering leaving — the business, others have gotten the certification required to assist consumers to enroll in health plans offered as part of PPACA.
“We recommend that people shopping for health insurance — or any kind of insurance — make the smart choice and not leave anything to chance; [they should] consult a local ACA Certified Professional Insurance Agent," PIA National President John G. Lee said.
“Choosing a health insurance plan is a serious matter,” Lee continued. “It is a complex process that cannot be compared to purchasing a book from a website. Insurance is not a commodity. The implications of making a poor choice due to lack of adequate knowledge include paying too much or getting inadequate coverage for yourself or your family. When it comes to health insurance, making an ill-informed decision can end up costing you your life’s savings – or your life.”
Brokers have been particularly busy in the wake of the glitch-filled exchange launch, helping consumers choose the right types of health plans while also explaining the law to clients.
Brandon Scarborough, a consultant at Power Group Companies in Kansas City, Mo., said his company prepped for months for the exchange launch Oct. 1, fully staffing its client care center to answer questions and consult with groups and individuals regarding their options under PPACA.
“People are confused, very confused,” he said. “They need trusted advisors more than ever.”